When Elena was first born, Kim wanted to make sure that she was still spending enough time with Maggie. Maggie was two and a half and so it wasn't that she was ever excluded when Kim was hanging with Elena, but Kim wanted to make sure there was one-on-one time with just the two of them. They would read together and play together but they particularly liked to do art projects together.
When Elena went down for her nap, Kim would often spread out newspapers on the kitchen floor and she and Maggie would sit next to each other working on a painting, or a drawing, or some craft project. It would always start well. They would talk about what they might make that day as Kim got the materials together. Maggie tended to have a great attention span for this sort of work so she didn't wander off or get bored. It could have been the art or it could have just been the pleasure of having her mom all to herself.
Every time they worked on a project together, they would end up fussing with each other. You see, Kim is a perfectionist and she'd rather not share. In class and with peers Maggie is very respectful of other people's projects, but with her mom she always had to reach over and make some contribution.
I'd walk into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and see them working side by side. It was an idyllic picture of a mother and daughter. I'd sit in the other room and do some writing. Then I'd hear it.
"Stop, you're ruining it."
Not the voice of a three year old. It was the voice of her mother.
"I was just helping you."
"That's very nice," Kim said, "but I'm o.k. on my own. Thank you. Why don't you just work on your own picture Maggie."
"I'm done. I think your sky needs some cerulean."
Maggie loved the word "cerulean". For a long time she pronounced it "kerulean". She'd read it on a crayon and worked it out herself when she was four. When I finally understood what she meant I asked "ssserulean".
Maggie paused to look at the "c e" on the crayon and shrugged and said, as always, "oh well."
Maggie and Kim continued to work on art projects even when Maggie was older. From time to time Elena would join in. Last winter Kim picked up gingerbread house kits for the girls to work on. One for each. Each kid was allowed to pick a parent. Elena chose me and Maggie chose Kim.
Maggie quickly mixed the sugar with water before she read the instructions. Soon she had one gloppy mess. Kim was trying to work carefully and neatly and Maggie would see the need for more sugar and just dump more on.
"You're ruining it," said Kim. It was a flashback that made us all smile.
Elena looked over at them and did what she did best: suck up. "I'm so glad I chose you to be my partner daddy," she said.
Maggie rolled her eyes. "Oh brother."
"Just look at theirs," Elena said. "Theirs looks like crap."
"Elena," Kim said, "that's not nice."
"But it's true," Elena protested. She was right but then again so was Kim. So Elena struggled with this conflict and looked for something nice to say about their house. "You've used up all your candy," she admired.
"Thanks," said Maggie oblivious to all of the negatives that had come before.
Maggie came over to see how our house was doing. Elena had been much more reserved in how we decorated it. She gave careful directions of what she wanted where and we iced it and assembled it according to her standards. A lot of the candy was eaten before it made it to the house which added to the simpler lines on ours.
Maggie suggested that we put an icing walk way out front and stud it with candy. Elena liked that idea so I drew a curvy path with sugar and Elena carefully placed little colored dots along the edges. While Maggie was busy inspecting Elena's gingerbread house the roof on hers started to fall in. On another day that might have set Maggie off, but not today. She applied a little more wet frosting and held the roof in place until it dried.
"See dad," said Elena, "I told you theirs looked like crap."
This time Kim didn't correct her.